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Boxer Rebellion

The Boxer Rebellion (義和團起義) was a reaction to the increase of Western trade, imperialism, and economic development in China during the final years of the 19th century. By August 1900, over 230 foreigners and thousands of Chinese Christians had been killed by Chinese armed troops, known as the "Fists of Righteous Harmony", or "Boxers."

Boxer troops in Tianjin

The violence was concentrated in northern China where European investors had built railroads and developed mining operations. To protect the Chinese empire from Western take-over, a secret society called the "Fists of Righteous Harmony" aimed to exterminate all "foreign devils." Thousands of Boxers targeted Christian missionaries in December 1899.

On January 27, 1900 foreign diplomats in Beijing China demanded that the Boxer rebels be disciplined. The Boxers escalated their rampage in the spring of 1900. By June, they had been joined by elements of the Imperial army and boldly attacked foreign compounds within the cities of Tianjin and Beijing.

Trapped inside the walled compound in Tianjin was a young mining engineer named Herbert Hoover (later to be President of the United States), who had settled in China with his wife, Lou. For the Hoovers, the siege was occasionally harrowing but of short duration. The foreign relief troops reached Tianjin by the end of June and drove the Boxers off by mid-July.

Further inland, Beijing was in greater peril. The United States had maintained an American naval presence in East Asian waters from 1835, protecting lives and property during the many unrests that shook Imperial China. In May 1900, a force of forty-eight Marines and three sailors from the cruiser USS Newark and the sidewheeler steamer USS Monocacy[?], under the command of Captain John T. Myers[?], USMC, arrived in the capital to defend the Western legations, days before the city was encircled by the Boxers. In June, the Boxers began a two-month siege. To rescue the beleaguered legations an international relief force assembled off Taku[?] Bar under the command of British Vice Admiral Sir Edward Seymour and put ashore a force of some two thousand men including a detachment of 112 American sailors and Marines under Captain B.H. McCalla[?], USN. As Seymour's force advanced toward Beijing from Tianjin, the latter city fell into the hands of the Boxers, and the column was effectively cut off from the sea. Finding heavy resistance to the front Seymour dug in and waited for a relief column.

Meanwhile, open fighting had broken out in Beijing. Following the murder of the German Minister on June 20, 1900, attacks on foreign legations, homes and places of business became the rule of the day for the Boxers. On June 24 serious fighting began along the walls around the Legation Quarter, and the greater part of the Marines took up positions there under Captain Myers. A smaller detachment under Captain Newt Hall, USMC, was assigned to defend the Methodist mission located at some distance from the legations.

In the fighting along the wall, the American Marines held positions back-to-back with the German troops, and each repulsed a strong Chinese hand-to-hand attack before the enemy gave up direct frontal assaults. Resorting to artillery to beat down the defenders, the Chinese delivered a severe bombardment on July 1 forcing evacuation of a part of the wall. At the insistence of Captain Myers the foreign troops quickly moved back into the breach before the Chinese discovered the retreat and thus probably averted a complete defeat and massacre of the inhabitants of the legations had the enemy gained access to the compound. Failing both in frontal assault and in bombardment, the Chinese turned to stratagem. They succeeded in setting up a tower in such a manner as to rake the Marines with enfilading fire. His position being untenable with the Chinese on his flank, Captain Hall organized his Marines and a small number of other foreign troops into a surprise attack on the night of July 2 which took the Chinese tower and stopped the immediate threat. As it later developed, this raid so demoralized the Chinese that, except for sniping, the fighting at Beijing practically ceased. An armistice was signed on July 16, 1900, and the situation was generally quiet until a relief column arrived.

While these developments were taking place at Beijing, the foreign powers, or the "Allies," as they came to be called, were moving against the Boxers in Tianjin. Under the overall command of Admiral George C. Remey[?], USN, Commander-in-Chief of the Asiatic Naval Station, all available Marines in the Philippines were ordered into readiness to move to the relief of Tianjin and Beijing. The first contingent, consisting of eight officers and one hundred and thirty-two enlisted men commanded by Major Littleton W.T. Waller[?], USMC, started from Taku to Tianjin on June 20, 1900. Attaching his little force to the British naval contingent under Commander Craddock, RN, and in cooperation with other allied troops, mostly Russian and British, Major Waller and his Marines entered Tianjin on June 25, and participated in the relief of Admiral Seymour's column, still pinned down just beyond the city.

Upon the evacuation of Captain McCalla who had had charge of the American sailors and Marines in Seymour's force, Major Waller assumed the command, and with the other allied troops waited for further reinforcements before undertaking the attack upon the strong Chinese positions within the ancient walled city in the center of Tianjin. Among the American reinforcements were the 1st Marine Regiment and elements of the 9th Infantry Regiment. These American troops together with the force commanded by Major Waller were placed under the command of Colonel R.L. Meade[?], USMC, whose organization was in turn brigaded with the Royal Welsh Fusiliers and a British naval force, under the overall command of Brigadier General Dorward of the British Army. The assault began on the morning of July 13, 1900, and was pressed hotly with very heavy casualties on both sides until the city fell to the allies on July 14.

By August 3 there were 18,000 Allied troops at Tianjin and a relief expedition started for Beijing, reaching the legations on August 14. Included among these troops was another battalion of Marines under the command of Major William P. Biddle[?] which arrived after the fall of Tianjin to take part in the relief expedition to the besieged allies in Beijing. With the arrival of Major General Chaffee, U.S. Volunteers, all American forces, including the Marines, were placed under his command. In the advance against the capital the Marines saw their principal actions on August 6 at Yang Tsun when they repulsed a Chinese cavalry attack and captured two villages; on August 13 in the attack on the wall of the Tartar City[?], Beijing, when two companies of Marines fought their way to within sight of the American Legation; and on August 14 when they led one of the attacking columns in the initial stage of the action and forced their way into the Imperial City. On August 14 the government fled, and the beleaguered foreigners were relieved. After the fighting was over, the Marines took up quarters in the Tartar City until they withdrew from Beijing on September 23, 1900, preparatory to their return to the Philippines.

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